The evolution of Merseyside’s only stately homePublished on 23 Feb 2021
Knowsley Hall through the ages
Edward Stanley runs four thriving enterprises across the UK – Knowsley Safari, Knowsley Hall, Stanley Grange Business Village and the Stanley House Stud. He is president of Liverpool Chamber and is involved with the University of Liverpool, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and Aintree Racecourse. He is also the 19th Earl of Derby.
Lord Derby inherited his Earldom in 1994 along with Knowsley Hall, a 2,500-acre private walled estate. “The estate came into the family in 1385 through a good marriage to an heiress of the day and was last used at full-tilt as a family home by my Great-grandfather. After the Second World War, though, these enormous houses were just unsustainable”.
Knowsley has undergone a number of transitions over the past century. Once the reserve HQ for the Battle of the Atlantic, housing a number of the Admirals who operated out of Derby House in Liverpool, it has also been used as the head office of the Merseyside Police in the late 1970s. Taking the reins in the early-nineties Lord Derby started looking at viable options to keep the estate going. “If you’d have applied a straightforward business principal to it you would have closed down the underperforming parts. But when it’s been a home to your family for over 650 years that’s not really an option. Its history is its unique selling point.”
After much deliberation, The Earl and Countess decided to painstakingly restore Knowsley Hall back to its former glory and re-opened as a successful venue for high-end corporate events and weddings.
A father of three, Lord Derby understands the importance of embracing change and engaging the next generation early. “It’s vital to start talking about generational transfer early on. To manage expectations for all”, he says. It is not something he himself experienced when the estate was passed to him.
Inheriting Knowsley from a “rather austere” Uncle, Lord Derby didn’t have the same preparation or openness he shares with his own children. “For me it was about observing, listening and thinking. It led to a much more radical change in approach when I inherited. It is important for me that my family is able to have frank and open discussions about succession. When it comes to an estate it can’t be equal, but it has to be fair”.
So what’s next for the Knowsley Estate? “My son Ed has recently produced a ‘Walled Garden’ gin, and grows seven botanicals on site,” says Lord Derby. “With less people travelling internationally we have also been developing our luxury ‘staycation’ offering - giving people exclusive access to the House and Park”, he says. “We have learned a good deal over the last difficult months and forced closures have meant that we have had to evolve our business model, think laterally and come up with some enterprising solutions. Odds on we won’t be going back to the old ways.”